Tag Archives: The Longings of Wayward Girls

Fiery July Fiction

Based on all the great novels out in July, the month will be a sizzling one.  Usually, I try to limit my best-of-the-month picks to ten.  But this is no ordinary month.  I don’t know what it is about July 2013, but it is the month in which some outstanding works of fiction are to be released.  I’ve already read some of these and am excited to share my selections with you.

To Pick Up Now:

Available from Ecco

greta wells1985. After the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix, and the break up with her long-time lover, Nathan, Greta Wells embarks on a radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her suffocating depression. But the treatment has unexpected effects, and Greta finds herself transported to the lives she might have had if she’d been born in a different era.  During the course of her treatment, Greta cycles between her own time and her alternate lives in 1918, as a bohemian adulteress, and 1941, as a devoted mother and wife. Separated by time and social mores, Greta’s three lives are achingly similar, fraught with familiar tensions and difficult choices. Each reality has its own losses, its own rewards, and each extracts a different price. And the modern Greta learns that her alternate selves are unpredictable, driven by their own desires and needs.  As her final treatment looms, questions arise. What will happen once each Greta learns how to stay in one of the other worlds? Who will choose to remain in which life?

Bookmagnet Says: I’m reading this one now.  As with The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer makes the impossible possible, wonderful, and mesmerizing.

July Releases

Coming July 1 from Pegasus Books

In silken prose and with subtle suspense, Nina Schuyler brings us a mesmerizing novel of language and translation, memory loss andtranslator heartbreak, and the search for answers in a foreign country.  When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, her injury is an unusual but real condition–the loss of her native language. She is left speaking only Japanese, a language learned later in life. With her personal life at a crossroad, Hanne leaves for Japan. There, the Japanese novelist whose work she translated stunningly confronts her publicly for sabotaging his work.  Reeling, Hanne struggles for meaning and seeks out the inspiration for the author’s novel–a tortured, chimerical actor, once a master in the art of Noh theater. Through their passionate and intriguing relationship, Hanne begins to understand the masks she has worn in her life, just as the actor dons the masks that have made him a legend of Noh. The demons from her past and present begin to unfold and Hanne sets out to make amends in this searing and engrossing novel.

 

 

Available July 2 from Washington Square Press

longings2.jpgBookmagnet Says: Compelling, atmospheric and smart, The Longings of Wayward Girls lures you in, beguiles, and even abducts you for a time.  You are in Brown’s dark domain where deep guilt, loss and impossible longing rule.  Little Sinners, and Other Stories as well as Pins and Needles made Brown the darling of critics, but I predict The Longings of Wayward Girls will speak to readers and critics alike.  Brown is a powerful force in fiction today, but her new novel makes her distinct voice even louder and more relevant.

Read my interview with Karen Brown here.

Set entirely in a small Connecticut town, The Longings of Wayward Girls is a book about how the past influences the decisions of a woman, Sadie, as she confronts pivotal life events: the birth of a stillborn daughter, and the anniversary of her mother’s death—the realization that she has now reached the age her mother hadn’t, that she is moving into “unknown territory.” Sadie must confront her memories of her childhood, and recognize that her perception was skewed by her own inability, as a thirteen-year old, to understand the events of that time.

Coming July 2 from Spiegel & Grau

In this stunning new novel, the award-winning Tash Aw charts the overlapping lives of migrant Malaysian workers, forging lives for five starthemselves in sprawling Shanghai.  Justin is from a family of successful property developers. Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered within hours as the job she has come for seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop artist, but his fans and marketing machine disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui has businesses that are going well but must make decisions about her life. And then there is Walter, the shadowy billionaire, ruthless and manipulative, ultimately alone in the world.  In ‘Five Star Billionaire’, Tash Aw charts the weave of their journeys in the new China, counterpointing their adventures with the old life they have left behind in Malaysia. The result is a brilliant examination of the migrations that are shaping this dazzling new city, and their effect on these individual lives.

Bookmagnet Says: With the success of recent novels such as How To Get Rich in Rising Asia and Crazy Rich AsiansFive Star Billionaire is sure to be a major bestseller and possibly one of the most talked-about tales of the year.

 

Releasing July 2 from Gallery Books

whistlingThe summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.  When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.  As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.

 

Available July 8 from W.W. Norton & Company

A young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.  Nemo Johnston resurrectionistwas one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public relations for his medical school’s dean, finds himself facing a moral dilemma when a campus renovation unearths the bones of dissected African American slaves—a potential PR disaster for the school. Will Jacob, still a stranger to his own history, continue to be complicit in the dean’s cover-up or will he risk his entire career to force the school to face its dark past?  First-time novelist Matthew Guinn deftly weaves historical and fictional truth, salted with contemporary social satire, and traditional Southern Gothic into a tale of shocking crimes and exquisite revenge—and a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining moral parable of the South.

 

 

Coming July 9 from William Morrow Books

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the curiositythe ice. As a scientist in a groundbreaking project run by the egocentric and paranoid Erastus Carthage, Kate has brought small creatures-plankton, krill, shrimp-“back to life.” Never have the team’s methods been attempted on a large life form.  Heedless of the consequences, Carthage orders that the frozen man be brought back to the lab in Boston, and reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was-is-a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906. When news of the Lazarus Project and Jeremiah Rice breaks, it ignites a media firestorm and massive protests by religious fundamentalists.  Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah’s new life is slipping away. With Carthage planning to exploit Jeremiah while he can, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.  A gripping, poignant, and thoroughly original thriller, Stephen Kiernan’s provocative debut novel raises disturbing questions about the very nature of life and humanity-man as a scientific subject, as a tabloid plaything, as a living being: A curiosity.

Bookmagnet Says: The Curiosity is my new favorite novel.  As a reader and reviewer, I hold so many books in my hands.  But The Curiosity is a story that will be forever etched in my heart.  When you finish this tale, you are not the same person who started it.  And that’s a good thing.  Please note that this story also made my list of the Best Novels of 2013 (So Far).

 

Releasing July 9 from Dennis Lehane Books/Ecco

Combining the raw-edge realism of Richard Price with the imaginative flair of Jonathan Lethem, a riveting literary mystery in which visitation streetthe disappearance of a teenaged girl sends shock waves through her waterfront community.  
“Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry, and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.”-Dennis Lehane 

Summer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a blue collar neighborhood where hipster gourmet supermarkets push against tired housing projects, and the East River opens into the bay. Bored and listless, fifteen-year-old June and Val are looking for some fun. Forget the boys, the bottles, the coded whistles. Val wants to do something wild and a little crazy: take a raft out onto the bay.  But out on the water, as the bright light of day gives way to darkness, the girls disappear. Only Val will survive, washed ashore semi-conscious in the weeds.  June’s shocking disappearance will reverberate in the lives of a diverse cast of Red Hook residents. Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, trolls for information about the crime. Cree, just beginning to pull it together after his father’s murder, unwittingly makes himself the chief suspect although an elusive guardian seems to have other plans for him. As Val emerges from the shadow of her missing friend, her teacher Jonathan, Julliard drop-out and barfly, will be forced to confront a past riddled with tragic sins of omission.  In Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda combines intensely vivid prose with breathtaking psychological insight to explore a cast of solitary souls, pulled by family, love, and betrayal, who yearn for a chance to escape, no matter the cost.

Available July 9 from Washington Square Press

forever interrupted“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.”

Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.  Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met—and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.  Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

Releasing July 9 from William Morrow Paperbacks

From the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Colors, a stunning new novel of sun, sand, love, and family set against the stargazey pointbeautiful backdrop of the South Carolina coast.  Devastated by tragedy during her last project, documentarian Abbie Sinclair thinks she has nothing left to give by the time she arrives in Stargazey Point. Once a popular South Carolina family destination, the town’s beaches have eroded, local businesses are closing, and skyrocketing taxes are driving residents away. Stargazey Point, like Abbie, is fighting to survive.  But Abbie is drawn slowly into the lives of the people around her: the Crispin siblings, three octogenarians sharing a looming plantation house; Cab Reynolds, who left his work as an industrial architect to refurbish his uncle’s antique carousel, a childhood sanctuary; Ervina, an old Gullah wisewoman with the power to guide Abbie to a new life, if only she’d let her; and a motley crew of children whom Abbie can’t ignore.  Abbie came seeking a safe haven, but what she finds is so much more. For Stargazey Point is a magical place… a place for dreamers . . . a place that can lead you home.

Bookmagnet Says: This sounds like the perfect beach read and one with substance and story.

 

Coming July 9 from Sarah Crichton Books

fin and ladyFrom the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a wise, clever story of New York in the ’60s.  It’s 1964. Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small dairy farm in rural Connecticut to Greenwich Village, smack in the middle of the swinging ’60s. He soon learns that Lady—giddy, careless, urgent, and obsessed with being free—is as much his responsibility as he is hers.  So begins Fin & Lady, the lively, spirited new novel by Cathleen Schine, the author of the bestselling The Three Weissmanns of Westport. Fin and Lady lead their lives against the background of the ’60s, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War—Lady pursued by ardent, dogged suitors, Fin determined to protect his impulsive sister from them and from herself.  From a writer The New York Times has praised as “sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious, and deeply affecting,” Fin & Lady is a comic, romantic love story: the story of a brother and sister who must form their own unconventional family in increasingly unconventional times.

Bookmagnet Says: I love everything Cathleen Schine writes.

Releasing July 16 from Scribner

A pitch-perfect, emotionally riveting debut novel about the fracturing of a marriage and a family – from an award-winning youngthe violet hour writer with superb storytelling instincts.  Life hasn’t always been perfect for Abe and Cassandra Green, but an afternoon on the San Francisco Bay might be as good as it gets. Abe is a rheumatologist, piloting his coveted new boat. Cassandra is a sculptor, finally gaining modest attention for her art. Their beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, is heading to Harvard in the fall. Somehow, they’ve made things work. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat.  A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, The Violet Hourfollows a modern family through past and present, from the funeral home in the Washington suburbs where Cassandra and her siblings grow up to the San Francisco public health clinic where Abe and Cassandra first meet. As the Greens navigate the passage of time—the expectations of youth, the concessions of middle age, the headiness of desire, the bitterness of loss—they must come to terms with the fragility of their intimacy, the strange legacies they inherit from their parents, and the kind of people they want to be. Exquisitely written, The Violet Hour is the deeply moving story of a family suddenly ripped apart, but then just possibly reborn.

Bookmagnet Says: Told from multiple and very distinctive viewpoints, The Violet Hour knocked me over with its intimate portrayal of a family’s past and present.  Hill knows how to keep readers turning pages.  Utterly beguiling.

Coming July 23 from Random House

and sonsWho is A. N. Dyer? & Sons is a literary masterwork for readers of The Art of Fielding, The Emperor’s Children, andWonder Boys—the panoramic, deeply affecting story of an iconic novelist, two interconnected families, and the heartbreaking truths that fiction can hide.  

NEWSDAY SUMMER READING PICK

The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novelAmpersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years—before it’s too late.  So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand. But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.  In this daring feat of fiction, David Gilbert establishes himself as one of our most original, entertaining, and insightful authors. & Sons is that rarest of treasures: a startlingly imaginative novel about families and how they define us, and the choices we make when faced with our own mortality.

Available July 30 from Harper

A mother must make the unthinkable choice between her husband and her son in this riveting domestic drama, the follow up to the sea creaturesauthor’s “exquisite debut” (Publishers Weekly), Stiltsville.  When Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham’s sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia’s college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia’s mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.
When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she’s surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.  But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie’s mutism is uncovered, the family’s challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.  Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman coming into her own as a mother, forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.

Releasing July 30 from A.A. Knopf

markerHypnotic, spellbinding novel set in Greece and Africa, where a young Liberian woman reckons with a haunted past.  On a remote island in the Aegean, Jacqueline is living alone in a cave accessible only at low tide. With nothing to protect her from the elements, and with the fabric between herself and the world around her increasingly frayed, she is permeated by sensory experiences of remarkable intensity: the need for shade in the relentless heat of the sun-baked island; hunger and the occasional bliss of release from it; the exquisite pleasure of diving into the sea. The pressing physical realities of the moment provide a deeper relief: the euphoric obliteration of memory and, with it, the unspeakable violence she has seen and from which she has miraculously escaped.  Slowly, irrepressibly, images from a life before this violence begin to resurface: the view across lush gardens to a different sea; a gold Rolex glinting on her father’s wrist; a glass of gin in her mother’s best crystal; an adoring younger sister; a family, in the moment before their fortunes were irrevocably changed. Jacqueline must find the strength to contend with what she has survived or tip forward into full-blown madness.
Visceral and gripping, extraordinary in its depiction of physical and spiritual hungers, Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift is a novel about ruin and faith, barbarism and love, and the devastating memories that contain the power both to destroy us and to redeem us. 

Bookmagnet Says: When I finished A Marker To Measure Drift, I hurled the book across the room to get it as far from me as possible.  And then I wept.  I predict all who read this will have a similar visceral reaction.  There were parts in which I thought I might vomit.  For fans of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee.  

A Marker To Measure Drift also made my list as one of the Best Novels of 2013 (So Far).

 

You’ve heard from me; now, I want to hear from you.  Which of these books will you read?  What novels are you excited about digging into for July? 

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Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Spotlight Books, Summer Reading, women's lit

Interview with Karen Brown, Author of The Longings of Wayward Girls

The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown (Washington Square Press; 336 pages; $15).

Compelling, atmospheric and smart, The Longings of Wayward Girls lures you in, beguiles, and even abducts you for a time.  You are in Brown’s dark domain where deep guilt, loss and impossible longing rule.  Little Sinners, and Other Stories as well as Pins and Needles made Brown the darling of critics, but I predict The Longings of Wayward Girls will speak to readers and critics alike.  Brown is a powerful force in fiction today, but her new novel makes her distinct voice even louder and more relevant.

Jaime Boler: Thank you for letting me ask you these questions, Karen.  The Longings of Wayward Girls captivated and wowed me.  Your setting, your plot, and your characters are all pitch-perfect and smart.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Karen Brown

Karen Brown

Karen Brown: I have piles of writing stored in accordion folders and boxes, going all the way back to my first illustrated story about talking squirrels who convince a girl to jump from her second story bedroom window. Writing has always been something I seemed to do well. In school teachers put my poems on the bulletin board. When you have early acknowledgement, it becomes part of who you are, and if you’re lucky, who you become.

JB: Your previous works have won awards.  Pins and Needles received the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, and Little Sinners, and Other Stories was awarded the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.  What were those experiences like?

KB: I was a short story writer who’d published in literary magazines, and the natural goal was to get “the book.” These contests came with publication, so I began putting stories together and submitting them. I did this for many years–rearranging stories, replacing older stories with newer ones. I never got discouraged—maybe because I was always writing, and always changing the manuscripts, and because it was fun, and I was doing what I loved. It was a great surprise and a great honor to have each of my manuscripts chosen. I knew how many people entered, and I was all too well aware that my winning meant others faced rejection.

JB: The Longings of Wayward Girls is very similar to the titular tale from your short story collection, Little Sinners, and Other Stories.  Did you always intend for the story to be a longer novel? little sinners

KB: Each story I write feels like just a piece of something larger. I was drawn to the setting of “Little Sinners,” and I thought that the prank the girls pull might have more lasting repercussions. I’d also written “Housewifery” at this time, and I knew that I wanted the main character to be living in a similar suburb with her own family, and to discover a hidden pond. The combination of both stories led to the novel.

JB: Please describe your new novel The Longings of Wayward Girls out July 2 from Atria Books.

KB: Set entirely in a small Connecticut town, The Longings of Wayward Girls is a book about how the past influences the decisions of a woman, Sadie, as she confronts pivotal life events: the birth of a stillborn daughter, and the anniversary of her mother’s death—the realization that she has now reached the age her mother hadn’t, that she is moving into “unknown territory.” Sadie must confront her memories of her childhood, and recognize that her perception was skewed by her own inability, as a thirteen-year old, to understand the events of that time.

JB: How did you come up with the title?

KB: The story of titles starts with the collection, Little Sinners. Originally, the collection was titled Leaf House, and the press felt that I needed something more commercial. I’d already been working on the novel, based on the short story “Little Sinners,” and I’d always planned for Little Sinners to be the novel’s title as well. But faced with coming up with a new one for the collection, I basically stole my novel’s title. That left the novel title-less, and the working title (The Lost Girl) wasn’t quite what the team at Atria wanted. “Something more like Little Sinners,” my editor said. Of course, I regretted stealing my novel’s title, but the book had already come out, and I couldn’t steal it back! We made lists. I even brainstormed with my students. We had some good ones! But I kept going back to my editor’s suggestion, and I agreed. The title Little Sinners fit Sadie and her friend so well. My idea for Longings came from that. They aren’t really “wayward,” just like they aren’t really “sinners.” The title assumes a world within the book that judges them, one that the girls emerge from, that’s ingrained in who they become.

longingsJB: Did you always know where you ultimately wanted  to take your story and your characters even when you wrote it as a short story?

KB: When I’m writing a story I don’t really know the ending until I get about halfway through. Because the novel is based on the story I had a sort of template, but I had to change the ending to add more momentum—so I did know where I was heading—just not how I would get there!

JB: I know the idea for Longings is based on a real person.  Who was Janice Pockett?  And how did this little girl provide the impetus for your literary works?

KB: In the 1970s several girls went missing in a particular area in Connecticut, and Janice Pockett was one of them. I’d been researching missing girls even before I wrote the short story, and I discovered newspaper articles about Janice’s disappearance. She went missing about the time my friends and I were exploring pastures and woods, and roaming freely about our neighborhood. We didn’t know about Janice Pockett or the other girls, or feel any sort of fear about where we lived, and yet they’d disappeared just a few towns away. Janice, too, lived in a rural area. She’d simply gone off on her bicycle to retrieve a butterfly and never returned.

The presence of the real missing girl was always with me as I wrote the book, and it greatly influenced the conclusion. She has never been found, and her sister keeps a Facebook page for her. On it she posts photographs of her sister wearing the same clothes my friends and I wore—the same Brownie uniform, the same bell-bottom pants and cardigan sweaters. I think I wanted the Laura Loomis sections to bring to life the stages of loss and the absence of resolution that families with missing children experience.

JB: Now I want to talk about the differences in the novel compared to the short story.  First of all, you have changed points of view.  In the short story Little Sinners, you tell the story from the main character’s first person perspective.  In the novel, though, you write in the third person.  Why the change?

KB: The reminiscent narrator in the short story isn’t Sadie from the novel—she’s an adult at a different place in her life, regretting her inability to determine what really happened all of those years ago, and seeking forgiveness. I had to invent a character who would live within the frame of the story, who would have experienced things—marriage, childbirth, the loss of her own mother—that the story’s narrator hadn’t. And I didn’t feel that the voice in the story could carry a book. It’s just too heavy with sadness.

JB: Another difference is the name change of the best friend.  In the short story, the friend’s name is Valerie Empson; while in the novel, the best friend is Betty Donahue.  Why was this changed?

KB: I’m not sure why I changed the name! Valerie was the name of one of my close friends growing up, and I think I wanted to be sure to distance the fictional character from the real person—in case she read it—something she is actually doing now! And as Betty’s character developed she seemed more like a “Betty.”

JB: By far the biggest change, though, is that in the short story, Francie, a little girl who disappears, is found alive.  But in the book, it is years and years before her fate is revealed.  What prompted you to change this part of the story?

KB: I wanted the revelation of what happened to Francie to remain, as it does in the short story, at the end. And I wanted the impact of this to have had bigger ramifications for Sadie—so that the reader knows she’s lived all of these years with the belief that she was implicated in Francie’s disappearance. It felt weightier, more powerful. Also, since the main characters in the story and novel are fundamentally different, the events resonate differently in each.

JB: The Longings of Wayward Girls is set in a Connecticut suburb.  Is it much like the town in which you grew up?  What was your childhood and adolescence like?

KB: I used the town I grew up in as a model for the town in the book. My niece drew the map from a sketch I made. The town was once called Wintonbury, and the historical society is called The Wintonbury Historical Society. The names of the roads are slightly off (mostly because I didn’t use a real map of the town as I wrote—I just pulled names and vague locations out of my memory!) We had plenty of fields, a swamp, the “dead end” and a local produce stand. There was a Vincent Elementary School. The pond, and the American Indian names are drawn from Windham County, in northeastern Connecticut, where my brother lives. (Once, he led me up a path through the woods, and showed me an amazing pond.) My friends and I did put on plays, and hold a version of the Haunted Woods in the summer. We played elaborate games of house in my basement. And so much more, that never found its way into the book!

The map from Karen's website

The map from Karen’s website

JB: When you were younger, did you ever pull a prank on someone?  Or have one played on you?

KB: I do remember leaving letters from a farmer boy under a stone at the dead end. But I’m not entirely sure they were ever retrieved, or who, exactly, they were intended for. Memory has a way of blurring these things. If I remembered exactly I wouldn’t have been able to make a story out of it.

JB: Do you see Sadie and Betty as bullies?  Why or why not?

KB: I think they are precocious and caught in the process of moving from childhood to adulthood. The book pauses them on the edge of that, and so their actions seem to arise out of a sense of their trying to claim some power over something in their lives. Sadie, especially, feels the loss of childhood acutely. But to answer your question, yes! Most readers would agree that they are bullies.

Holyoke is one of the subjects in this book.

Holyoke is one of the subjects in this book.

JB: You incorporate colonial history into your story, and I really love that you do.  What role does the diary of Mary Vial Holyoke play in the life of Sadie, your main character?  What does Sadie learn from the colonial woman?

KB: Colonial women frequently dealt with the death of a child—something Sadie discovers when she volunteers to map out the old cemetery. The section of Mary Vial Holyoke’s diary that I quote is her recording of the illness of her oldest daughter Polly. Most of the diary notes the passage of days as chores and errands and visits, and suddenly there’s a line that alerts the reader that Polly is sick. From this point on each day names a different woman who came to “watch” over Polly, and there’s a great sense of women pulling together to help Mary through what we discover is the death of her child. I think Sadie is in denial about her own grief—and doesn’t yet see the ways the women who gather at the pond, and at Kate’s, might help her through it, or how the regularity of her life—the way she is needed by her husband and children–might ease her pain.

JB: Emotions such as deep loss and impossible longing resonate throughout your novel.  What made you want to explore these feelings?

KB: I’m not sure I set out to explore those feelings exactly, but in creating the character of Sadie I seemed to gravitate toward them. I imagined that loss and longing fueled Sadie’s choices, and that these feelings arose from her childhood. While I never feel I have to explain a character’s actions, I still believe that a reader should understand her or him, whether she agrees with them morally or not.

JB: You teach creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida.  How has teaching writing made you a better writer?

KB: The practice of reading good fiction in class, and discussing what strategies a writer has used to achieve that result definitely keep me focused on my own choices.

JB: In your view, Karen, what is good fiction?  How can good fiction change both the writer and the reader?

KB: For me, good fiction provides readers with a unique voice—one that allows us to navigate a world  that is familiar enough for us to believe we are experiencing events there, but that retains an element of strangeness that keeps us guessing, and wanting to know more. Good fiction utilizes specific details that accomplish multiple tasks: they let us in on secret aspects of the world—visual, emotional, and intellectual. If a book can lure a reader in, it has the potential to change the way they view their world.

JB: Which writers have influenced your work the most? Which books have had the greatest effect on your life?  Which matter the most to you?

KB: I’m drawn to lyrical writing, and as a literature student I loved writers like [Gabriel] Garcia Marquez, [Vladimir] Nabokov, Toni Morrison and Don DeLillo. I still love these writers, and reread their work. They tell their stories, which seem private—and by this I mean they are about particular people’s lives, but somehow they manage to encompass all of us, and deal with vital issues in the world.

JB: As an author of both short stories and novels, which medium do you prefer?  Why?

KB: As a reader, I enjoy a novel to escape. But if I’m reading as a writer, and want to come away from something with a jolt, a fine short story is always best. As a writer I can’t choose which I prefer—they are both so different, and require different things from me. I’ve trained myself to distill a moment down to fit the length of a story, but it’s an entirely different process loosening up the story, and filling it with scenes and multiple moments.

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Longings of Wayward Girls?TheLongingsofWaywardGirls

KB: I’m going to answer this in a roundabout way: When I knew I wanted to write a novel, I began to read them voraciously. I joined a book club, and I read the other members’ choices—books I would never have chosen myself as a stuffy instructor of Modern American Literature: Stieg Larsson, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, David Baldacci, Kate Morton. And I introduced my book club to my own choices: Richard Yates, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Patchett, Jess Walter. I learned how invested readers could be in characters, and how engaged they became with the events that befell them.

I realized that books can entertain, as well as teach us something about ourselves, and I hope that readers will enter the world I’ve created and experience both of these things.

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

KB: I’d like to publish another novel, and I’m working on one now. The process of writing Longings—the revisions, the editing—taught me so much! I’m trying to apply that knowledge to this new book. (Like Longings it was inspired by one of my short stories—“Galatea” from Pins & Needles.)

JB: Thanks for a wonderful interview, Karen.  Good luck with the book!

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Spotlight on The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown

I just read a new novel from a favorite of mine–Karen Brown’s The Longings of Wayward Girls.  Last year, I reviewed Karen’s short story collection, Little Sinners, and Other Stories, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize.

Brown’s emotional stories cut to the quick.  They wound; they scar.  The stories in Little Sinners are intelligent, dark, deep, and murky, much like a woman’s soul.  Brown has a keen sense of what works.  At only 194 pages, Little Sinners is short, but its issues are weighty.  I dare you to read Little Sinners and come away empty.

Brown has done it again with The Longings of Wayward Girls; in fact, I think it’s even better than Little Sinners and that’s saying a lot.  Compelling, atmospheric and smart, The Longings of Wayward Girls lures you in, beguiles, and even abducts you for a time.  You are in Brown’s dark domain where deep guilt, loss and impossible longing rule.  Little Sinners, and Other Stories as well as Pins and Needles made Brown the darling of critics, but I predict The Longings of Wayward Girls will speak to readers and critics alike.  Brown is a powerful force in fiction today, but her new novel makes her distinct voice even louder and more relevant.

longings

 

About the Book:

It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.

About Karen Brown:

Karen Brown was born in Connecticut. Her first collection of short stories, PINS AND NEEDLES, received The Grace Paley Prize

Karen Brown

Karen Brown

for Short Fiction. LITTLE SINNERS AND OTHER STORIES won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Her stories have appeared in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories 2008, Good Housekeeping, and in many literary journals. She studied creative writing at Cornell University, and received her Ph.D. in Literature from the University of South Florida, in Tampa, where she currently teaches. Her debut novel THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS will be published by Atria/Simon and Schuster in July 2013.

 

 

Coming Soon:

An interview with the author.

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Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, Debut Novels, fiction, literary fiction, mystery